A Pen in the Hand

StaplesHave you noticed that the pen selection in Staples, Office Max and Office Depot is dwindling? Likewise, leaving is the wide assortment of paper-based notebooks? I love pens, I love paper. As a true gourmet of pen styles, types, and inks, as well as an expert in paper thickness, color, and size, I am beginning a period of mourning for not only the imminent end of these tools, but more important, the end of an era where a person interacted directly with her words.

Oh sure, you could say the same is true with a person typing away on a keyboard – she is interacting with words, right? Wrong. She is interacting with an intermediary that is steps away from having her words on the paper. She is missing the touch, the feel, the smell, the Zen of putting a pen to the paper, and perfecting the swirls and flourishes of handwriting.

Believe it or not, I love my laptop, adore my Kindle and can’t live without my Smart phone. In this world, there is a place for each of these things – an intrinsic, necessary and vital place – in education, business, government, and play. What I don’t love is the disappearance of life’s graces and refinements, those things, those practices, that make us truly purposeful. Consider: a thank you note written by hand on sweet-smelling stationary, not a cryptic note sent by impersonal email; a poem penned under a shade tree on a sultry summer day, not typed away inside on the laptop; a recipe, hand-printed on an old-fashioned recipe card decorated with red and white gingham borders, not one printed from the computer .

006My point is not to condemn technology, nor is it to say everything we write should be done by hand. The monks from many moons ago taught us that copying the Bible by hand was not an efficient, cost-effective way to go. Rather, my point is to make a case for the pen in hand, to teach kids penmanship, to encourage the Zen of writing, and to preserve some priceless, irreplaceable measures of humanity.

Perfect Pen or Holy Grail?

It all depends on the paper – how the pen works, that is. This realization comes from many years and many journeys in search of the “perfect pen.” For me, this odyssey is the search for my personal Holy Grail – that ever elusive thing that promises health, wealth and happiness (and eternal salvation)!

In truth – I have no illusions about health and wealth unless a gliding pen serves as a secondary sort of salve. Makes sense, right? Health as a side effect from the glee of finding and using that pen; wealth from the bestselling novel that follows!

In truth, my lust is about simpler stuff. I search for that perfectly balanced, correctly weighted, optimal tip and a “smooth-as-butter” ink flow that writes “first time every time!” In addition, this, the ultimate recorder of text, must magically transform my unreadable, ugly script into something  beautiful and swan-like. All of this for less than $50.

Does such an instrument exist? No. Well  …. Sort of, and here’s why my equivocation. After many sweaty treks through the hottest days of summer and slippery slogs on the snowiest days of winter, I finally arrived at the answer. And this is it: it’s not just the pen. It’s the symbiotic relationship between pen and paper that makes the magic.

For example – I recently purchased two really wonderful pens – one a Levenger, the other a Lamy – both fountain pens. I then bought a notebook at Staples to use as my journal. I then sat down for a long writing session with my new pens and my new notebook only to be thwarted with tremendous disappointment. First one, and then the other, fountain pen bled right through the paper – seeping through to the other side as well as yielding veritable ink blots  that cut a far bigger swath of spreading ink than I intended.

Back to the original question: is there such an instrument? I have my top  10 favs, but the pen du jour is a shifting sand that balances precariously on paper, type of pen, my coffee consumption, and purpose in writing. In other words, I think I might have better luck seeking the Holy Grail!